The Jakarta Post
Vulnerable households and communities in South Timor Tengah (TTS) district, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province have improved their nutritional practices following an intervention by Helen Keller International (HKI) through the Mondelez International-funded Rapid Action on Nutrition and Agriculture Initiative (RANTAI).
Educating communities on how to plant nutritious crops and raise poultry for animal sources of protein might be easy but driving them to do it in a sustainable manner is a challenge.
Alfred Taloim, a public transportation vehicle conductor-turned-farmer and father of two has answered the challenged. He directly engages in planting nutritious crops and raising poultry on his land.
But he is more than just your average farmer as he enjoys a surplus of vegetables, chickens and eggs thanks to assistance from HKI staff in planting crops and raising chickens in 2012.
The 24-year-old Alfred says he sells the surplus to his neighbors and at a nearby market, thus allowing him to earn more income. 'I raise about 100 chickens, with prices ranging from Rp 100,000 to Rp 150,000 per chicken,' says Alfred, a trained group head, adding, 'On average, I earn Rp 1 million per month from selling crops, chickens and seeds.'
But above all, he is taking steps to address malnutrition in his household. 'Today, the production of nutritious foods for children has increased by 75 percent. We consume vegetables every day and eat eggs almost every day,' he says in a convincing tone.
Home gardens with nutritious crops and chicken runs are now common sight in TTS, with Alfred being one of the 4,001 trained household beneficiaries in Homestead Food Production (HFP).
Religious leader Merlin Lapanengga from the poverty stricken TTS district, NTT province, is also directly involved in planting nutritious crops and raising poultry on her land.
Tomatoes, carrots, eggplants, red spinach and other kinds of nutritious crops grow well in her home garden. Apart from producing micronutrient-rich vegetables, the 32-year-old minister has also established a small chicken run in her house. 'By providing an example, thank God, I can see more and more people eagerly following my lead,' said the chief of the Neke Church Council, Oenino, TTS.
She acknowledged that people were initially pessimistic about planting the micronutrient-rich vegetables, using the long drought and water shortages as excuses. However, thanks to training from HKI aimed at educating and assisting participating households in agriculture and nutrition through its HFP program, many of them have changed the mindset, believing that nutritious crops can grow on their land, which help meet the much-needed nutrition.
The improved nutrition in TTS is a far cry from what was seen several years ago when diets in the participating households were mainly maize-based, with limited diversity, prior to the intervention involving multiple sectors, with HKI being the driver and program executor.
Underlying causes of under nutrition
TTS has had a persistently high prevalence in the key indicators of malnutrition among women and children. According to data sources, TTS is district where many households face food insecurity ' which is a key determinant of malnutrition.
Malnutrition and food insecurity has led to children experiencing stunting, becoming underweight and going through delays in mental development, while pregnant women suffer from anemia.
Basic Health Research held by Ministry of Health in 2007 showed that six out 10 children under 5 years old in in the project areas were stunted. Malnutrion also occurs among pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
This explains why HKI, with funding from Mondelez International, is implementing the HFP model under RANTAI, which aims at addressing the underlying causes of under nutrition related to food insecurity, poor infant and young child feeding practices and improper health-seeking behaviors.
The five-year RANTAI program has reached at 4,001 vulnerable households, with 1,601 in the first phase in 2012 and the remaining 2,400 in the second phase in 2013. The targeted households come from 17 sub-districts and 74 villages.
Mondelez Indonesia's managing director Sunil Taldar explains that one of the reasons behind the malnutrition is people's lack of awareness of the importance of nutritious food choices.
That is why Mondelez International strives to raise public awareness on the issue by funding RANTAI, which is in line with the company's the Call for Well-Being platform, a call for action in four areas 'that are critical to the wellbeing of the world and where Mondelez International can make the greatest impact: sustainability, mindful snacking, safety and community partnerships,' he remarks.
Referring to RANTAI, he says that the program builds the capacity of households to plant nutritious vegetables and fruits.
'These vegetables and fruits vary and are easy to find and grow, such as eggplants, beans, green and red spinach, tomatoes, bitter gourds, kale, carrots, chayote and lettuce,' he says.
According to Taldar, it is impossible to solve global issues by themselves and 'so we partner with experts who can help us figure out ways to address these complex societal issues.'
'We choose and work with partners that have similar concerns and with their expertise, together we can help improve community health,' he says.
Given the large scope of the complex societal issues, HKI, as RANTAI's appointed executor, views this project as collaboration with key stakeholders in the community.
'From the inception, we have engaged government officials, health staff, religious leaders, community health volunteers and village chiefs in the planning of the program,' said Prateek Gupta, country director of HKI Indonesia.
'They have been the ones who have been helping us identify the households that could benefit from the program and they have provided advice and support on an ongoing basis,' he adds.
The year 2016 marks the end of the RANTAI program, which is entering the exit phase. Efforts are now under way to evaluate the program and make it sustainable.
Gupta says that to assess program implementation, 'we collect data on a broad range of indicators that helps us quantify how practices have changed at the household level.'
'As a result of our routine monitoring, we know that the beneficiaries are growing more varietals of micronutrient-rich vegetables. In addition, we have learned that many of the households now have more chickens due to improved vaccination practices as well as improved chicken coop construction.'
According to him, significant improvements have also been seen in the Food Consumption Scores of participating households since the start of the project.
The Food Consumption Score provides an estimate of the amount of quality foods eaten in a household. 'When we started our project, only about a third of households that were a part of our project had an 'acceptable' diet as per the Food Consumption Score,' he says.
'Within six months of implementation, our monitoring found that more than 80 percent of our households had an 'acceptable' diet and that percentage has been sustained since.'
'We would like to ensure that all of the households participating in our program are optimally practicing the skills that they have learned through training,' he says.
Gupta says that neighboring households that weren't initially part of the program take on some of the key practices on their own and that is a great sign for sustainability.
'We are also encouraging the beneficiaries to access the village allocation funds so we are sensitizing the heads of villages on the benefits of the program.
'Based on HKI's experiences in other countries in Asia, we have seen our participating households sustain their activities long after HKI has stopped actively working in these areas,' Gupta says.
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